A veteran journalist on regional affairs
Kavi Chongkittavorn is a veteran journalist on regional affairs
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken used the special session with Asean last week to shore up Washington's position in Southeast Asia. He touched on China, the disputes over the South China Sea, the situation in Myanmar and the response to Covid-19, amongst others. Strangely enough, the phrase "free and open Mekong" was introduced for the first time in the latest US position regarding the most important strategic area of mainland Southeast Asia.
Make no mistake, Russia is back in Southeast Asia, the region where its former empire reigned during the Cold War. This time, Russia is more sophisticated and more assertive, as another global power that can shift and change the present strategic environment in the most visible way. Today Russia is determined to break US-led sanctions and further integrate its economy with the region's economic dynamics.
Exactly 24 years ago this week, some 40-plus publishers and editors from all over Thailand came together to form the National Press Council to challenge the government of the day, which was trying to control them through regulatory measures. The council has since then used "social and peer pressure" and its code of ethics to maintain media professionalism. It has also served as a pillar for the Thai media to preserve freedom of expression.
It must be said, right from the start, that the debate on the merits and demerits of Thailand's joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) has been going on for far too long. Despite lengthy debate, there is still no consensus on whether the country should join the world's premier free-trade agreement.
By Oct 15, Buddha willing, Thailand will be ready to welcome visitors from abroad including domestic travellers. Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha bet his political career and reputation on a pledge that Thailand will be back in business once again in four months' time.
In commemorating the 30th anniversary of Asean-China relations later this year at the summit level, it is expected that China will be represented by Xi Jinping, who has yet to attend an Asean-related summit under his presidency. Of course, this is just a plan for both sides, which still need further discussion to celebrate their "shared future" trajectory. After all, when Asean agrees on the upgrade of China's longstanding strategic partnership to a comprehensive one, there must be a very special li-you (raison d'etre) to do so. And the list is long.
Strange as it may seem, vaccine diplomacy could cure US-China relations and improve their herd immunity against global hegemony. After all, these two superpowers' ultimate objective in giving away vaccines is to save lives, regardless of nationality, ideology and religion, making sure the citizens of the world beyond their frontiers are safe and sound. Then, in a year or two, inoculated people around the world could reflect on the good deeds Washington and Beijing did for them and their countries. Vaccine diplomacy can increase mutual respect, benefits and trust among nations.
The Biden administration has made the Thai-US alliance more secure and valuable as demonstrated by the 7th Thai-US strategic dialogue, which was held last month. It came at the right time after a three-year hiatus, as both countries are currently recalibrating their alliance and overall relations with other partners in the region and beyond.
In September 1997 Thailand became the first country in Asean to enact a freedom of information law. The Official Information Act (OIA), as it is known here, became a new benchmark for a free society as well as its openness and transparency. For the first time, the public had the right to access information, especially that previously held by the government.
On 24 April at the Asean Leaders' Meeting in Jakarta, the Asean chair, Sultan Hassan Bolkiah, instructed foreign ministers to hold special meetings with the US and China as soon as possible to further strengthen Asean centrality and unity with these most important dialogue partners. It was rather an unusual instruction as Asean had already planned to hold a post-ministerial meeting with Washington and Beijing in August.